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Review of Nora invites Aggiss, Burrows, Fargion and Tanguy

Nora 'BLOODY NORA!' by Liz Aggiss photo Camilla Greenwell
Nora ‘BLOODY NORA!’ by Liz Aggiss photo Camilla Greenwell

This eclectic three act show has a slightly cumbersome but accurate full title. Nora invites Aggiss, Burrows, Fargion and Tanguy quite rightly insists on naming all of its choreographers. It was only later, in a post-show discussion, that I discovered the process of putting this show together involved a reversal of the usual dancer-choreographer arrangement. Here, rather than Eleanor Sikorski and Flora Wellesley Wesley auditioning for works already thought through, they invited choreographers to collaborate with them on the three pieces that form this distinctly contemporary dance performance.

Act One, ‘Eleanor and Flora Music’, began and mostly continued with the performers moving as though cogs in a machine. On the stage lay sheet music, on a music stand, referred to periodically throughout the dance. But there was no music. Elsewhere in London, at the time of writing, a company called Silent Opera has a show on, Vixen, involving piping music through headphones. This show goes even further, with the sound of steps as the dancers – well, danced – and the occasional voicing of screeching, serving as the sole accompaniments to the movements.

What occurs, then, is a choreographed interpretation of a piece of classical music. I had assumed, given the sheet music, and the exuberance of the dancing combined with subtler moments, that the piece of classical music in question was composed for an orchestra. I later discovered it was actually written for piano and violin only. The nuances and telling facial expressions are more suited to the smaller of the two performance spaces at Sadler’s Wells – the relative intimacy helps here.

But this is the sort of performance that dance purists are unlikely to have much appreciation for, in a similar fashion to fine art purists detesting the Tate Modern’s exhibitions, however popular and appealing they may be to anyone even slightly open-minded. Though the performances demonstrate the flexibility and versatility that a more traditional dance performance would also have done, they were doing what I could only interpret at one point as warm-up exercises, and at another as playground handclaps. All perfectly executed, all lovely to see, but a wide definition of ‘dance’ is required to fully appreciate everything going on.

Such a definition needs to become even wider part-way through Act Two, ‘Digging’, in which I found it extraordinary that an entire dialogue had surfaced in a medium of entertainment where dancers are often supplied with no lines to speak at all, letting the movement and choreography ‘speak’. Before long, Nora appear to have given up altogether on dancing, adopting a stand and deliver approach.

Movement resumes minutes later, before the act comes to an abrupt end. There is nothing wrong, as I never tire of saying, of leaving the audience wanting more. The show’s ‘information sheet’ (a programme in all but name, albeit an advertisement-free one) contains a paragraph of Samuel Beckett’s writing, typically philosophical, as the entire description of this part of the evening’s proceedings. Having been exposed previously to Beckett’s work, and Beckettian productions, it was easy for me to see why. Highly thoughtful, this came across more as a stream of consciousness rather than any sort of structured plotline. It was difficult to figure out why this act was called ‘Digging’ – as far as I could tell, there wasn’t any digging, either literal or proverbial. Anyway, the number of topics covered was very broad, including tropism and the ancient Greek Empire’s approach to government by democracy. I liked a discussion about repetition, often seen as negative: but what about days of the week (their example) or brushing your teeth (mine)?

Act Three, ‘Bloody Nora!’, was even more of an interpretive dance than ‘Eleanor and Flora Music’. An opportunity for fun and frolics, it was arguably a tad too calm and balanced to fully convincingly pass off as a “story of hormonal turbulence”. Nonetheless, this light-hearted romp through the full gamut of human emotions was more satisfying than an uncontrolled rant (whether through dance, spoken word or both) would have been. The gags are good, the direct engagement with the audience refreshing, and the competitiveness a telling reflection on the ruthless nature of the entertainment industry. It’s unmistakably feminist, and it’s so very different from the other two pieces it almost jars. All things considered, this triple bill is an inventive and resourceful production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Dancers Eleanor Sikorski and Flora Wellesley Wesley, AKA Nora, return with their bold programme of duets by renowned choreographers Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion, Simon Tanguy and Liz Aggiss. Eleanor And Flora Music overflows with free-ranging, rhythmical dancing whilst Digging slips between road trips, plant biology and sexual desire, and BLOODY NORA! concludes with a riot of hormones.

Lilian Baylis Studio
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R
1st and 2nd June 2017
http://www.sadlerswells.com/

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